Being Known

Psalm 139

17 June 2012

Boyn Hill Baptist Church

Morning service


We have an omniscient, omnipresent, sovereign and holy God. How does that make you feel?

Well, it sounds a bit like the start of a theology lecture, doesn't it? It's easy just to say the words, and if we know what they mean, we might even acknowledge that they are true. But we'll quickly move on, won't we, to thinking about things that seem more relevant, like, what's for lunch?

What we really want to know is, how do these truths make difference to our lives? How do they ground themselves in our experience? What possible relevance does God's omniscience have to my life? Or is it just something that theologians argue about.

Well, that's where Psalm 139 helps us. You see, it's all about God's omniscience, God's omnipresence, God's sovereignty and God's holiness. But it doesn't read like a text book, does it? No, it's thoroughly grounded in the life of the psalmist, King David.

Let's have a look, then, at Psalm 139, starting with verses 1-6, which I've headed God knows you inside out.

God knows you inside out (v. 1-6)

My children enjoy getting one up on me. Sometimes they will ask me a question like, how many stars are there, Daddy? If I'm off-guard I might answer, actually nobody knows how many stars there are. To which they'll reply triumphantly, but God knows, Daddy!

And they are right: God knows everything, and that is one aspect of omniscience.

But David, the Psalmist, is much more interested in another aspect of God's omniscience: God knows everything about him; God knows him inside out.

Verse 1: O Lord, you have searched me and you know meref. God doesn't just know about stuff, he knows you. His knowledge is personal. He has studied you until he knows you thoroughly.

He is not only aware of everything you do, verse 2, he knows every thought you think! He knows your habits, he knows every movement your body makes.

I don't know your approach, but I'm usually sensible enough to say only a small fraction of what I really think in most situations—sharing my unedited thoughts would no doubt lead to all sorts of trouble. But God doesn't have to wait until you speak out loud to know what you want to say; he knows it before you've even opened your mouth. Verse 4, he knows it better than you do!

And God surrounds us, verse 5: behind, before, above. There is no side of you that God cannot see. He knows you inside out.

So, how do you feel about all this? God knows your every action, every thought, every word, every desire, every mood, every intention. What do you think: is that good news or bad news? Is it good to be known? Really?

Well, it looks like David, frankly, had some mixed feelings about this. In the poetry of the Psalm, verse 7, he wonders how he can flee from God's Spirit, flee from God's presence. But he finds that he cannot. God is with him 24/7, and that's my second heading: God is with you 24/7.

God is with you 24/7 (v. 7-12)

Technically this is known as the doctrine of God's omnipresence.

Look at how David makes the point in verses 8 to 12 with a series of contrasts. Verse 8, he could travel as high as the heavens or to the depths of the earth—to the underworld itself—and God would still be there.

Verse 9 is a poetic way of saying that no matter how far he travels, East or West, he does not leave God behind. If I rise on the wings of the dawnref— this means as far East as he can imagine, as far as the rising sun. If I settle on the far side of the searef—the sea, of course, for David was the Mediterranean to the West of Israel. As far West as he goes, God will still be guiding him and holding him. God is not stopped by distance or by sea.

In the course of my work, I've been to Japan quite a few times now, and I have to tell you, it's a very, very long way away. The first time I flew there it seemed like the flight would never end. And, when you get there, it seems like quite a strange place to be: everything is different and unfamiliar. But I still remember the joy I felt on my first visit on finding that God is still God, even as far away as Japan. Of course I knew that in my head in theory—it's embarrassing even to have imagined that he might not be there ahead of me—, but actually to travel so far and find his Spirit still with me, my prayers still heard, God's people still active, was enormously comforting.

The truth is that both for the Chinese lady blasted into space yesterday, and for James Cameron a few months ago descending seven miles beneath the sea: God is there, whether they know it or not. If one day we visit other planets or even other galaxies, we'll find him there before us.

So, you can't escape God in space; what about in time? Well, he's with you constantly too. Look at verses 11 and 12. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.ref. Ancient middle eastern nighttime was truly dark. It was dark-dark, in a way that we rarely experience today. But God is not limited by that; he sees as clearly by night as by day. He is with you constantly, 24-by-7.

Again, I want to ask, how do you feel about this? Are you comforted to know that there is nothing that you can do to escape God's presence; that he is with you at all times and in all places?

Or are you disturbed by the thought of constant scrutiny? Are there times when you'd really rather God weren't there? The eternal surveillance camera in every room of your life?

Well, for those of us who believe in Jesus, this should, on the whole, be a great comfort to us. The apostle Paul picks up this thought in the New Testament. Romans 8, I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.ref

Are you convinced of this as well?

God controls your beginning and your end (v. 13-18)

In the next section, verses 13 to 18, David reflects on God's sovereignty: God controls your beginning and end.

Before David was born, God was involved in his life, knitting him together in his mother's womb; intricately weaving his fabric into who he became. We know unimaginably more about this process than David did, and it seems even more miraculous and wonderful for that: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.ref

As an aside, you may be aware that these verses are a key part of the argument against abortion in the Bible. There is no point before which we can say that a person does not exist; God is at work from the very beginning and before.

My impression is that abortion as a campaigning issue has rather slipped down the agenda of the churches as other things have come along. It just seems to be part of the fabric of our society now—in Great Britain, over 200,000 abortions are performed every year; 4,000 a week; more than 500 every single day. That's a full quarter of the rate of live births. It seems that today abortion has become completely accepted and taken for granted. But just because it is done in the secret place, verse 15, it does not mean it is hidden from God. We must not ignore this atrocity.

Anyway, back to God's sovereignty: God controlled your beginning, forming you in every detail into the person you are; and God controls your end. Look at verse 16, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.ref

He knows how your life is going to work out; he knows how long you will live. He controls your beginning and your end: he is sovereign over your life.

Once again, how do you feel about that?

Are you comfortable knowing that your life is in God's hands? Or would you rather be in control? Does it reassure you or alarm you that God knows the date of your death, and everything else between now and then? Do you trust him to with the rest of your life, or would you rather work it out on your own terms?

A Passion for Holiness (v. 19-24)

Finally, let's look at the rather different verses 19 to 24. The underlying theological doctrine here is the holiness of God, and I've headed these verses, a passion for holiness.

God knows David inside out, 24-by-7, from beginning to end. And David knows God. Verse 17, How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!ref Of course he can never know more than an infinitesimal fraction of what God knows: verse 6, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.ref But he certainly knows that God is holy.

Again, this is one of those doctrines it is easy to keep at arm's length. God is holy: check. Definition: pure, morally perfect, set apart, and so on.

But what does it mean for us? Well, David shows us two proper responses to knowing God's holiness. For David, God's holiness is not only a doctrine—it's personal.

First, in verses 19 to 21 we see a zeal for God's name. If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.ref

David, knowing God's holiness, is driven to defend it, to fight for it, to oppose those who oppose God.

God is so different, so set apart from the ungodly world in which we live our daily lives. But we quickly become conformed to the world. We no longer hold up a standard that says, "this is what God demands of you". We get quite used to blatant sexual immorality all over the television; we shrug our shoulders as fewer and fewer people marry and more and more co-habit; we tolerate injustice and oppression all over the world; we turn a blind eye to abortion, and so on and so on.

Not so David. His knowledge of God's holiness drives him to God's defence. Now, his language is too strong for us: we are to love our enemies. But, like David, our knowledge of God's holy character should drive us to confront the world. How will you respond to God's holiness?

But note too that David's zeal for God's holiness in the world is balanced by an equal zeal for God's holiness in his own life. Look at verses 23 and 24.

Here we find a prayer. All along the way, we've found a certain ambivalence about God's knowledge of us. I don't know about you, but I am uncomfortable that God sees and knows every thought, word and deed that I perform. The knowledge that he is with me 24-by-7 is a two-edged sword; I can't escape, even for a moment. My independent spirit rebels against the fact he is in ultimate control of my life, rather than me.

But, by the end of the Psalm, David has come to terms with all these things. And now he willingly invites God into his life: to know him completely; to search out out all his unholiness; to lead him.


Is this a prayer that you can pray?

It is not a comfortable prayer to pray, is it? To open yourself up in vulnerability to God. To stop pretending that you can hide your thoughts and words from him. That you can escape his presence. That you are in control of your life. That your sin doesn't matter.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.ref

We would not dare to pray this prayer if it weren't for Jesus, would we? To invite the holiness of God into our lives—we might as well invite a lion round for tea. We are, at heart, the very wicked of verse 19 whom God ought to slay. But in Jesus, we can do this.

It will be painful to have God operating on our hearts and excising all the disease from them. But at least we know that we will be safe. Because when Jesus died in our place, he bore every last bit of the punishment that our sinful, offensive ways deserve.

No, it is not a comfortable prayer to pray. But for those who trust in Jesus, it is safe.

Perhaps you've never prayed a prayer like this before; you may never have invited God into your life fully and completely and openly. If so, then let me encourage you to pray it now in your heart and come and tell me about it afterwards. Let's have a moment of quiet.